Three GOP Candidates Emerge In 31st After Miller’s Withdrawal

(February 19)  Republican Congressman Gary Miller’s announced decision last week to not seek reelection in the Democratic-leaning 31st District has prompted three members of the GOP to step up in an effort to succeed him, despite the obvious disadvantage any member of their party will have in this year’s electoral contest.
Miller, who has been in Congress since 1999, decided not to seek an eighth term in Congress at least in part because his own electoral chances in the 31st were grim. Miller’s capture of the seat in 2012 was something of a fluke.
In 2012, California had switched to an open primary system, which ended sequestered party ballots and effectively brought to a close the tradition of guaranteeing that a Democrat would face a Republican in the November general election.
After the redistricting that followed the 2010 Census, the 31st District encompasses parts of Upland and Rancho Cucamonga, and stretches eastward across San Bernardino County through a large portion of Fontana, Rialto, Colton, San Bernardino and Redlands. Miller, whose previous district, the 41st, covered the southwestern portion of San Bernardino County and southeast Los Angeles County and northeast Orange County, was apportioned into other districts already held by Republican lawmakers after the 2010 Census. He chose to run in the 31st, gambling that his fundraising ability as an incumbent would offset the Democratic registration advantage his opponent would enjoy.
Members of Congress do not need to live in their district and are eligible for election as long as they live within the state they represent in Washington, D.C.
As it turned out, four relatively unknown Democrats – Pete Aguilar, Justin Kim, Rita Ramirez-Dean, and Renea Wickman – joined Miller in the 2012 31st  District race. In addition, another Republican, Bob Dutton, entered the fray in the 2012 primary. Despite the seven percent Democratic voter registration advantage in the 31st, simple mathematics hurt the Democrats as their vote was divided four ways, while the Republican vote was split two ways. Dutton and Miller proved to be the two top vote-getters and under California’s open primary arrangement, the November general election came down to a race between Republicans Miller and Dutton. Miller prevailed in that race.
For solid reasons, the Democrats consider the 31st District to be one that should naturally fall to them. Of the district’s registered voters, 127,690 or 41 percent, are affiliated with the Democratic Party.  Registered Republicans in the district number 104,938, or 33.7 percent. Independent political appraisers see the 31st as a Democratic asset as well.
Even  before Miller defeated Dutton in 2012, Democratic strategists set their sights on the 31st District and Miller, determined to prevent the disarray that tripped their party up in 2012 being repeated again. In short order, a game plan was hatched by which Aguilar, who had polled the most votes among the four Democrats in the 2012 primary, was chosen as the logical party standard bearer. By promoting Aguilar early, engaging in brisk fundraising on his behalf and warding off any other Democrats so a concentrated party electoral effort to advance Aguilar can be mounted, they believed Aguilar could beat Miller in a toe-to-toe slugfest in November 2014, despite Miller’s incumbency and formidable fundraising capability.
Consequently, Aguilar has been the beneficiary of a concerted Democratic fundraising and endorsement effort on his behalf. Seeing the writing on the wall, Miller opted out of the equation, announcing earlier this month that he was leaving Congress to devote time to his family.
Either lacking the political sense Miller possesses or possessed of determination to show the GOP flag no matter how dire their prospects, three Republicans – San Bernardino County Councilman John Valdivia, perennial elected office candidate Paul Chabot and Miller’s senior policy director Lesli Gooch, have issued announcements that they will test the waters in this year’s 31st Congressional District Primary.
Valdivia who last year handily beat an effort by a Democratic Party-affiliated group of local political activists to recall him from office, indicated that as an Hispanic Republican he believes he stands a fair chance of success given the demographics of the district.
Chabot is an anti-drug crusader who claims to have been one of the youngest drug addicts on record before he underwent rehab at the age of 13. He has served as a reservist in both the sheriff’s department and Navy and saw active duty in Iraq. Chabot previously sought election to the California Assembly and was actively campaigning to become assemblyman upon Mike Morrell’s anticipated departure from the Assembly to succeed resigned State Senator Bill Emmerson when Miller announced he would not run for reelection. Chabot initially indicated he would support Bob Dutton in his ambition to succeed Miller. After Dutton gave indication he would continue to pursue his previously announced decision to be elected county assessor, Chabot abruptly abandoned his pursuit of the assembly spot and jumped into the 31st Congressional District race.
Reminding the electorate that he is the most conservative of the candidates in the field, Chabot said, “This seat is too important to lose to a career politician who will give us more of the same – empty promises and failed results. Americans deserve elected officials who are willing to place the needs of the people they represent before partisan bickering in order to get things done.”
He claimed the endorsements of former Congressman Jerry Lewis and current Second District San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford.
Gooch launched her campaign with an endorsement from Miller.
“Lesli has spent the past 15 years on Capitol Hill fighting for San Bernardino County families,” Miller said. “Lesli has worked tirelessly developing programs to ensure safe, decent, and affordable housing opportunities for Inland Empire families; securing funding and administrative victories to improve our streets and schools; and fighting to ensure Inland Empire small businesses thrive and create good paying jobs.”
Saying she was “disappointed” that Miller is departing Congress, Gooch said she has already secured $100,000 in campaign funding.
Counteracting Rutherford’s endorsement of Chabot, Fourth District San Bernardino County Supervisor Gary Ovitt endorsed Gooch.
Despite efforts by the National Democratic Party to get members of the party to coalesce behind Aguilar, there is concern that the Republicans could again capture the 31st Congressional seat as three Democrats other than Aguilar are in the race – Colton attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes, San Bernardino school board member Danny Tillman and former Representative Joe Baca. Gomez Reyes, Tillman and Baca have so far proven resistant to calls for them to drop out of the contest in favor of party unity.

Leave a Reply